Comments from October 2007
Breastfeeding and the housewife-feminist dominate the comments send in by our lovely readers during the month of October
Comments on last month’s features and reviews
Samantha Jay, author of the article, replies
Thanks for your lovely comment and for confirming my suspicions that I am not the only one out there in this situation! I definitely feel like there is a huge place for the kind of academic feminism that is so widespread (although not the snotty attitude you describe above), but I also strongly feel that sometimes we should remember to keep it real. For example, I get annoyed by the very language that many core feminist texts employ- they are so littered with polysyllables that it renders them inaccessible to the majority of the population. Yet the ideas contained within them are so radical that they deserve to be heard outside of the small scholarly group that read and buy them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of big words and a well constructed sentence. I also realise that it’s vital that feminism has a thriving theoretical base, I just would love to see some more feminist books on the bestsellers list, to walk down the street and see a woman waiting at the bus stop rocking a pram with one hand and holding a radical feminist manifesto in the other. Better still, for this to be a common occurrence. Ah, I can dream!
Samantha Jay, author of the article, replies
Thank you for your comment, I am glad my article rang true for you. I think I can understand why feminists are weary of celebrating domestic labour; after all, it is something that has been forced on women for centuries regardless of their own personal ambitions and talents. Even in recent history many of us have stories of women in our families only a couple of generations back who had amazing potential in terms of academic or creative credentials yet were forced into a life of repressive domesticity because of the inherent sexism of the time. Also, how many of us have to suffer at the hands of male colleagues, friends or family members, the relentless ‘get back to the kitchen’ type ‘jokes’ as a way of shutting us up? These things certainly do leave a bad taste in the mouth and reflect badly on the domestic sphere. Consequently, because of this historical backdrop and low social status many feminists are maybe reluctant to endorse the domestic role. Yet, as I argued, I think this is a mistake, a monumental case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, alienating many women in the process. Instead, by helping to raise the social profile and status of domestic labour feminists may be able to help women who work in the sphere feel good about themselves and also silence the braying of unhelpful critics who devalue domestic work.
I can understand why it was essential that women broke out of the kitchen and into the world of work. I support and applaud women who do feel like they can manage a high flying career and a family. I also wholeheartedly endorse equal relationships and agree that it is outrageous that as Amity Reed argued in her great article, Maid of the Manor, men simply aren’t doing enough around the house. I might currently do the majority of the housework in our relationship, but that is because I don’t work in paid employment. If I did, I would certainly expect Owen to do his equal share of toilet cleaning! As feminists, we should be pushing the equality agenda, but we have to realise that because of circumstances people have different ways of doing this; equality does not necessarily mean two people on identical wages doing chores on a rota basis. There are other ways of finding equality and feminism should be about the spirit of fairness as well as the execution of this.
Thanks for your encouragement and support
Samantha Jay, author of the article, replies
Wow. What a thought provoking and detailed comment – thank you. As you say, life is too short for ‘self flagellation’. I find it interesting what you say about a low stress lifestyle allowing more brain space for cultural pursuits – I, for one, am grateful for the amount of time my domestic role gives me for improving my mind, something that is, rather unfairly, not often associated with the life of a housewife.
My husband and I have an agreement that as long as the work gets done, how I organise my time is up to me, and so consequently, especially when I’m feeling well, I have time for a lot of ‘extra’ activities. I do volunteering in the local community, attend classes at the local mental health day centre, read up to three or four novels a week, write a regular blog and articles for online zines, play the saxophone, meditate regularly and study spiritual texts, watch loads of films, read the daily paper and have written two novels.
Let me point out that I am not particularly unusual here, amongst my friends in similar situations I know many housewives who are busy using their spare hours to better their minds and contribute to their communities- let’s not forget that the backbone of charity and community work in this country is done by homemakers.
Although sometimes I do play the ‘what if?’ game when I’m feeling blue – ‘what if I was normal and didn’t have bipolar?’, ‘what if I had a full time job like my friends?’ most of the time I am content, happy, and proud of my life. I am very much engaged with the world, this idea of housewives living in an isolated bubble is simply not true in my experience.
I am always learning, always thinking and am also ambitious in my own way. My ambitions just don’t happen to involve getting that promotion, or being invited to chair a certain committee but are goals that I have set myself revolving around my own interests and heartfelt loves. It is this side of the domestic life that goes so often unacknowledged and ignored, so thank you for pointing it out. I certainly am not chained to the scrubbing brush and in some ways feel more educated now than I ever did when I was at uni and I know many who feel the same way.
Samantha Jay, author of the article, replies
Thank you, I am pleased you liked the article. One of the things I didn’t really touch on in the piece is children. I don’t have any, so I thought it was best that I didn’t write about what I didn’t directly have much experience of. But I know the reason that many women stay in the domestic sphere is to bring up children, either through choice or necessity or a combination of both.
I myself was raised by a ‘stay at home mum’ who gave up nearly 12 years of a successful teaching career to bring up my brothers and I. Many people, including some feminists, would call that crazy. But she created for us all a wonderful home environment where we all really flourished. I believe we owe the various successes of our adult lives to the foundations she (and my dad as well) laid for us. We were reading at a ridiculously early age, playing pianos, recorders and God knows what else at five, visiting museums, art galleries and just living the kind of happy childhood that you don’t hear about so much anymore.
Today, many adults my age look back at their infancy and remember with nostalgia their favourite telly programme, or the computer game that they had been entertained by for hours on end whilst their parents were out at work. I on the other hand count my self very lucky that when I look back to those early years I think of my mum and all the games we used to play, the baking we did, the books we read, the first tentative stories she helped me craft. I think of the time, the love and the attention that she patiently gave to me and I am just so immensely grateful.
I think she did one of the most amazing things a person can do. Anyone who criticises that kind of self sacrifice and devotion has probably not experienced it themselves. Also, my mum often argues the point that it wasn’t really self sacrifice as they were some of the best years of her life so far! Despite living for years on a combination of lentils, economy baked beans and second hand clothes, the pay off of happy times spent together as a family were well worth the poverty.
I am not for a moment saying that mums who work are selfish, or that their kids necessarily get a raw deal. I know many mothers work long hours and with or without a partners help manage to provide a stimulating, loving and happy home life for their children. I just know I personally am grateful for the choices my mother made and that’s why I get angry when people have a pop at stay at home mums or argue that their position is incompatible with feminism. It absolutely isn’t; caring for and raising children to be responsible and happy people is the foundation of our very society. It is a valid expression of a mothers strength, takes all sorts of courage, resourcefulness and that quality that is so lacking in today’s society: compassion. Your daughter is lucky to have such a mum and the feminist movement needs people like you on board if it is to really make a difference.
Ruth Moss, author of the article, replies
First of all thank you very much for all the positive comments; this is the first article I’ve written and I was really cheered to receive so much positive feedback.
I’d like to respond to one or two of the comments:
“I think it is more disgusting to have an infant suckle from a bottle
than a breast.”
This is a very unfair – and wrong – thing to say. There are many women out there who desire to breastfeed their babies but for whatever reason – be that medical, be it fear of breastfeeding in public, be it lack of support in the crucial early days, be it any of the other many barriers to breastfeeding there are – they stop breastfeeding before they wanted to, often in the first few weeks. They move their babies onto formula fed in a bottle. What is disgusting is that they didn’t get the support to breastfeed as long as they wanted, but I think it’s very wrong to judge their choices – or rather lack of choice. In addition, a woman does have the right to choose how she feeds her baby, and if a woman wants to bottle feed her baby then it’s not right to tell her she’s disgusting; we should actually campaign for her to be able to make that choice with independent information on which is the best formula (something the companies do not provide).
“However, it’s equally ridiculous to
think that this is a recent phenomenon. If you could show me any
1930s, 40s, or 50s public posters or magazine covers featuring
breastfeeding then I might be convinced otherwise.”
In the article I actually noted the phenomenon started in the early part of the twentieth century, if not before then, at around the same time as the marketing campaigns for infant formula. And you might well be right about Queen Anne and other royals / aristrocrats, but in all fairness you wouldn’t have seen them in public that often anyway. Everyday women would have breastfed in public as they would have had no choice as they went about their everyday lives with a baby.
“boys & young males in particular don’t need pictures
to stir their imagination & lustful fantasies of women. women &
mothers in particular may see this as a rather natural picture. but
it shows private parts, a part that men lust after & really some
things need rules”
I think this is an example of “men can’t help themselves, so it’s up to women to hide away” isn’t it? And we know how pernicious that way of thinking is.
“However, in Germany the feminists are the ones who
fight for less nudity in public space. obviosly because every form of
nudity is connected to an abuse and “objectification”
Really? The feminists are fighting for less nudity in public space because it’s subjected to abuse and “objectification”? I would have thought the feminist angle would be to fight against the abuse and objectification, rather than against the nudity. Because it’s the German / Scandinavian model when it comes to breastfeeding that I do think we ought to have here in Britain.
“if you want to attact the lads-mags: fine.”
You may want to go back and have another read. You’ll find that if anything is attacked its the infant formula marketing industry. Lads’ mags to my mind are almost more of a symptom of a society that’s forgotten what breasts’ primary function is for, rather than the cause of it.
“seriously,though,i have formula fed my last 4 children form birth,as
my experience of breast feeding my first child was awful.why?i had
problems feeding,and being discreet was not an option,so he often
ended up having his dinner in public toilets if i dared leave the
house.this experience put me off for life.
how different it could have been,if i’d been prepared to let it all
hang out whenever and wherever,with no-one batting an eyelid.even
when i had my 5th child 7 months ago i didnt consider
breastfeeding,as i still wouldnt feel comfortable feeding in public
as i dont have the sort of gravity-defying breasts it is acceptable
to display these days.”
And this is exactly the kind of comment I think the person who wrote about bottle feeding being obscene should read and try to understand.
“One picture I remember: a young woman, lit by the setting sun,
expertly steering a massive barge into a busy lock on a Dutch canal.
One hand on the tiller and the other cradling a child attached firmly
to her breast. She had cut out the engine and exactly gaged the speed
and weight of the huge vessel she steered gently into the space
available. A breathtaking picture of skill, natural peace and true
beauty. Many eyes were watching, some had cameras but nobody was
rude enough to break the spell or distract her complete
Lovely – and proof if it were needed that in a world where breastfeeding is considered normal it is perfectly possible to breastfeed and go about everyday life too.
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
The aim of my article was to demonstrate how despite the fact therapists
are supposed to assist women who seek out their expert help, far too
many therapists are continuing to impose their own belief systems of
what supposedly comprises normal female sexualities on to clients.
I totally agree, many women who visit a therapist do so because they are
unhappy, but it is not the therapist’s role to subtly make a woman
conform to what society judges to be appropriate or suitable female
sexual expression. I strongly criticised Pamela Stephenson Connolly’s
methods because she did not listen to the woman but instead sought to
impose her belief system upon this respondent. Stephenson did not
validate the young woman’s sexual autonomy and sexual rights.
Stephenson Connolly in my view pathologised this young woman by telling
her if after having found the ‘right man’ she still did not want to be
penetrated, then she should seek a therapist.
Therapy is about working
with a woman or man in order to help them discover what it is that is
making them unhappy or depressed. Then the therapist and client work
together to decide what changes if any, the client wishes to make in
their lives. It is not the therapist’s task to subtly make a client
feel something is wrong with them, but rather to support and validate
the client’s pain and/or unhappiness in order that it is the client who
decides what changes if any, they wish to make in their lives. Therapists are supposedly specialists in understanding that no two
clients are the same and unless a client has committed a crime,
therapists must always work with a client not work to impose their view
on a client. Stephenson in my view acted inappropriately by not
validating and respecting the woman’s right in refusing to submit to a
male partner penetrating her body.
If you re-read the sentence in my final paragraph you will see I
adamantly support all women’s right of sexual autonomy and choice. As I
wrote, “I am advocating women’s right of sexual autonomy and the right
for all women to own their bodies and not have their diverse sexualities
defined by and for men’s pleasure.” In other words I strongly advocate
women deciding for themselves how they desire to express their
sexualities. Rather than the increasing pressure women are now facing
wherein their sexualities and desires continue to be defined by men for
men’s sexual pleasure and simultaneously claiming women who do not
adhere to phallocentric notions of female sexuality are dysfunctional or
Women’s sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies means both
recognition and acceptance that their sexualities and desires are
diverse. As I stated in my article, I strongly respect women’s right
and desire to seek penetration, but I also respect the right of women
who do not want to be penetrated by a penis, object or fingers. I
strongly oppose any coercion or societal pressure wherein women who
actively do not want to be penetrated by a penis, object or finger(s)
are viewed as being sexually dysfunctional, abnormal, frigid or simply
prudish. This includes therapists, sexologists, medical practitioners
and also a male/female sexual partner. That is the difference.
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
Thank your for your comments. However, unfortunately you have missed
the focus of my article. Vaginismus is a myth because it has been
constructed solely from a phallocentric perspective. Women are
supposedly sexually dysfunctional if they actively refuse to ‘allow’ a
penis or other object penetrating their bodies wherein the only purpose
is sexual gratification of a male partner or same sex partner. A
woman’s right to own her body is overuled because of this phallocentric
This phallocentric reasoning presumes that only ‘real sexual activity’
occurs when a penis penetrates a woman’s vagina. Far too many women are
still being told by medical experts they should seek expert medical help
and also use dilators in order to make their bodies accept a penis or
object penetrating their bodies. Vaginismus has been primarily
constructed and defined as a woman’s inability to adhere to a
phallocentric idea of what supposedly comprises women’s main sexual
functioning, namely being penetrated by a penis or occasionally other
Of course many women are not able to physically insert tampons
internally into their bodies but this has no relation whatsoever to
female sexuality. The purpose of a tampon is not for sexual pleasure
but enables a woman to continue her daily activities comfortably.
Menstrual caps for example are not for women’s sexual pleasure but are
to assist women in overcoming problems in respect of heavy periods.
Smear tests too are not primarily for the sexual pleasure of a woman or
her partner. Therein lies the difference.
This is what I was challenging my article, not the fact some women are
not able to insert tampons internally into their bodies.
Please note I did not and do not denigrate women as ‘brainwashed idiots’
but there is a very detailed history of how women have been and continue
to be pressurised into believing they are abnormal, dysfunctional or
simply frigid if they refuse to engage in penetrative sex, whether it is
heterosexual or same sex. This does not mean women are ‘idiots’ but
the fact remains when alternative feminist views of female sexuality
which place women’s sexual autonomy and right to own their bodies are
dismissed as illogical, or simply the rantings of a frigid woman. Then
obviously one view is being accorded fact whilst the other is deemed
‘fiction.’ The question then to be asked is why is penetration believed
to be an act which all women, irrespective of their views and feelings
are expected to engage in when the sole purpose is to ensure a male
partner achieves sexual climax. Here I am referring to heterosex since
that is still perceived by many to be the only ‘real sexual activity.’
There is a large body of evidence to support the view that not all women
want, like or even wish to engage in hetero penetrative sex, but the
medical establishment, culture and popular media all promote the myth
penetration is the ‘gold standard’ for women and if a woman refuses she
is automatically labelled dysfunctional, frigid, cold or simply selfish
because she is denying a hetrosexual man’s right of penetrating a female
body. In other words, men’s sexual rights once again, supercede women’s
The crux of my argument is that women are constantly exhorted to
accommodate male partners’ demands for penetrative sex at least once.
It is very clever double speak, whilst we are told women have achieved
sexual autonomy at the same time women are still expected to endure pain
and discomfort because a male partner’s sexual pleasure is primary
whereas theirs are very much secondary. I did not and do not promote an
ideology that all women should desist from engaging in penetrative
sexual activity. Rather I uphold the right of all women to not only own
their bodies but also decide for themselves, without pressure or
coercion from medical experts, culture and of course men, their right of
refusing to engage in penetrative sex and not be labelled ‘sexually
dysfunctional.’ Women who do not engage in penetrative sex are still
considered not to be ‘sexually active.’ At the same time, I strongly
support a woman’s right to engage in penetrative sexual activity, that
is her right. The difference is far too many women are not in a
position of having their sexual desires and rights respected. Instead
they are expected to acede to male demands for penetrative sex and if
they refuse, there are certain negative consequences. Men and women are
consistently taught and our culture reinforces this view, that male
penetration of a female’s body is central to male heterosexual activity
and a little force or coercion is acceptable. After all, male sexuality
is supposedly uncontrollable once aroused and always culminates with
penis in vagina or now increasingly penis in female anus.
What is forgotten is that penetration of a woman’s body by a penis is a
reproductive act not just a sexual one and also one wherein most women
do not achieve sexual climax. As to why penis in vagina/anus has become
the ‘gold standard’ is the subject of another article.
Suffice to say, one must ask oneself why is not penetration of male
heterosexual bodies not promoted, since men alone have a gland just
inside their anuses which if stimulated causes male sexual pleasure and
nearly always orgasm and ejaculation. But of course this would
radically alter how male sexuality continues to be constructed and
defined with the emphasis on male sexual autonomy and female sexual
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
I wanted to write and thank you for your very insightful comments
and I am also pleased to read you enjoyed reading my article.
Yes, my intention is to challenge the dominant belief that ‘real sex’
can only be attained via a penis or other object being inserted into a
woman’s vagina otherwise ‘sex’ has not occurred. Sadly, far too many
men and women too continue to be taught this is the only real sexual
act. Of course there are other issues such as how male sexuality
continues to be defined, which is why as you say, male sexual partners
think sex has not occurred if penetration of the female body has not
taken place. But I wanted to focus on the women’s perspective and
challenge the immense pressure women continue to endure from men and
society as a whole to always submit or allow male penetration of a
woman’s body. As you so rightly point out, sexual expression is
multi-faceted and each individual woman experiences her sexuality
differently. Never a one-size fits all despite what women continue to
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
Well, despite claims to the contrary, some men do not engage in
heterosexual penetrative sex but are still able to climax or have an
enjoyable sexual experience. One of the prime concerns is how
heterosexuality has been constructed with the widespread belief a
heterosexual male needs penetration in order to gain sexual
satisfaction. However, this was not always the case. Tim Hinchliffe, an
academic historian, wrote a very interesting book on English Sexualities
1700-1800 wherein he proved penetration was not at that time considered
‘real sex’. Instead it was perceived as just one of many different
sexual acts. Mutual masturbation between a woman and man was considered
the norm, together with other mutual sexual activities, but English
society increasingly became concerned to control and police female
sexual autonomy, hence penetrative and procreative heterosex became
increasingly publicised as the ‘norm’. To me this clearly proves
sexuality is a social construction not a biological given.
If penetration was always required in order for a man to achieve sexual
release, one has to ask oneself the question why then do so many men
state they achieve far greater sexual satisfaction when they masturbate?
Research on this is contained within the Hite Reports on Male Sexuality
which contrary to some who dismiss her work as non-academic and not
rigourously researched; in fact it is. Bernie Zilbergeld another
well-known academic sexologist in his first edition of male sexuality
wrote at length about how men experience their heterosexuality and again
the focus was not always on penetration. Interestingly, when Zilbergeld
edition was reprinted this section was omitted due of course, to immense
pressure and criticism Zilbergeld received from conservative
phallocentric promoters who believed sex is not sex unless a female body
has been penetrated. Other writers too have written on this thorny
subject, including Nicola Gavey in her book Just Sex. In other words
focusing on penetration as the only real sexual act is very limiting to
both women and men. Penetration is primarily for the purpose of
reproduction and the reason a man ejaculates into a woman’s vagina is in
order that he can fertilise her egg. However, although the man achieves
sexual satisfaction, many, many women do not feel any sexual pleasure,
but often discomfort or pain, if of course the aim of such an act is for
mutual sexual satisfaction and not for reproductive purposes.
There is in fact a huge difference between negotiating whether the man
or woman takes out the rubbish or washes up because of course no bodily
contact is involved. For too long men have been given the power and
right to define for women what they supposedly want and need. Still,
women’s sexual experiences and desires are being ignored and instead
what is often termed a phallocentric approach is considered the norm.
In other words the supposed needs of a penis penetrating a vagina
supercedes the woman’s ownership of her body. Remember that when a man
masturbates he does not insert his penis into a container instead he
massages his penis until he reaches climax. No penetration is
Jess McCabe , editor of The F-Word, replies
Although the right to have an abortion is under constant attack, thankfully the US has yet to ban it altogether! Thank you for your comment, though.
Irina Lester, author of the article, replies
Arguing from probability of non-existence is a logical trick which obscures the fact that only if you have lived can you know what you would lose if you cease to exist. If you ascribe the same level of consciousness and cognitive ability to a foetus as to a human being, I’d suggest you go back to your school textbooks on human anatomy. And, using your argument technique on you I might say: next time you meet someone whose relative died in pre 1967 Abortion Act years from backstreet abortion, ask them are they glad their mother/grandmother/aunt/friend lost their life of which, unlike a foetus, they were fully aware of? Because this is what it boils down to: death of a foetus versus death of a human being, as not every woman, despite your wishes, will have motherhood forced upon her.
Irina Lester, author of the article, replies
Thank you for such a high praise. I am glad if my article inspires women to come out and challenge the view that we are all depressed and regret abortions.
I think it is important for those women who didn’t regret it to say so, and say it loud, because otherwise abortion will remain a dirty word and many other women will suffer as a result of such attitude. The arrogance of these conservative morons enrages me because, in fact, they don’t care about women, they are just peddling their agenda at out expense. Someone needs to tell them: get lost, shove your pictures of foetuses where the sun don’t shine, we know best what to do with out lives.
In my country of birth, Russia, the favourite topic is still “do not terminate the first pregnancy as it may lead to infertility in future” and many young women have unwanted children as a result, or, what’s worse, many marriages take place because of it. People end up living the lives they don’t want to live, being together with a wring partner, becoming a parent at a wrong time in their life.
You are right, abortion in a hospital, in proper conditions, is safer than childbirth. According to the government, Maternal deaths in the UK for all women are at a rate of 53 per million maternities, compared with about five per million abortions. (from here).
So no one has a right to force us to take a potentially higher risk for our lives, not to mention the change having baby brings in a woman’s life.
Comments on blog posts
Abby O’Reilly, author of the blog post, replies
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog post.
Secondly, many apologies if the content upset you in any way as that was
not my attention at all, and it was not written to function in that way.
There are, however, a few salient issues I would like to address. I was
very careful about the wording of that post, as I was aware that I was
unable to legitimately represent the whole spectrum of father-daughter
relationships. This was why I put more emphasis on my subjective
experience. I thought it would be unfair to explore the abuse angle in
more detail than I did because I have no experience of this myself, and I
thought that it would be patronising to those who had. On the other hand,
I thought it would be to do those women who had had these experiences a
disservice to fail to acknowledge that this happens entirely. This is why
I made reference to this, but did not explore it further.
As the article I referred to was about a positive father-daughter
relationship, this was why I chose to write the post in this vein. I did
find it interesting that Karen Glaser had chosen her father to be present
at the birth of her son, and I did wonder if the way father-daughter
relationships are viewed was changing. I don’t think I suggested that we
are all destined to “marry our fathers” or “turn into our mothers” as I do
not think that is the case at all. In my blog post, I said that although
our mothers provide us with the first example of womanhood, we may or may
not wish to emulate her behaviour. I am very close to my mother, but apart
from a shared sense-of-humour we are very different in many ways, and our
life choices when compared to when she was my age have been very
different. Sometimes you can be influenced by someone to such an extent
that you wish to do the exact opposite, and this is the idea I was drawing
on here and throughout the blog. Similarly with the father aspect. I have
a great relationship with my father, but I don’t assess potentially partners
on their similarity to him, nor do I actively pursue men who are like him.
Women do have an identity of their own, and that is exactly what I was
suggesting, but it is just natural that an individual’s thoughts and
opinions (both those of men and women) are influenced by their
intereactions with those around them. That doesn’t diminish a woman’s
identity, and in many instances I think it allows us to develop the
critical acumen and confidence (in the long-run) to know exactly what we
do want. I hope that this helps to clarify the meaning of my post, as it
would not be my intention to undermine anyone’s experiences or cause
Abby O’Reilly, author of the article, replies
Many thanks for your comments on my blog post. Firstly, I’d like to address the last point you made, which was that my final sentence was a “leap of logic worthy of the pro-life fundies.” I have chosen to start with this as I must confess to having found that remark very offensive. I re-read that last sentence (the entire blog in fact) and I still fail to see how you can substantiate your argument. The point I was making was that we are expected to be ‘women’ and to display feminine attritubutes in a stereotypical sense, but with regards to the actual internal physiology that actually distinguishes our gender we are consistently subject to repression, and placed in a position where we are supposed to alter and change our bodies to conform to a male ideal. To a lesser extent think about the topic of menstruation. It’s not a subject that I would speak about at length, but is it even socially acceptable to speak about this in the company of men? It’s not in my experience. It would be considered quite coarse and inappropriate to do so, even though it’s just a natural part of our bodies. It is something which, to a certain extent, is considered to be slightly embarassing even though half the population does it. We can be women, we can look pretty, as long as we don’t openly show ourselves as being “slaves to our bodily functions,” so to speak.
I am not of the opinion that every single woman is desperate for a baby – far from it. I did not suggest this in my post either. Like yourself, I am not someone who wants to have children in the near future, if ever at all. But what I do object to is that the onus of birth control does predominantly fall on women – leaving men free to go and squirt their seed like water sprinklers happy in the knowledge that “it’s being taken care of.” Of course, being in a monogamous relationship, as you say you are, is very different, and so you should take the precautions that best accommodate your needs, but you need to appreciate that your way is not the only way. Ovulation is something that happens to women – it just is. It’s not painful, and the majority of us wouldn’t even know when it is actually happening, so I think that it’s hugely intrusive to actually have to take a pill that will alter the genetic make-up of a woman’s eggs when she is able to bible along quite happily whether she is ovulating or not. That was the “extreme length” to which I referred.
Many women object to having to chemically alter their body when there are other methods of contraception available that would mean they would not have to do so. I recognise the merits of the oral contraceptive, as I mentioned in my blog post, and I also recognise that it’s introduction did mark a movement towards liberation for women when it was first introduced (again as I said in my blog post). You say that you choose to take the pill, as you want to take responsibility for your uterus, which is a perfectly valid point, and I can understand what you are saying. But do you think that if men had always been expected to play a role in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, then you would feel the same way? Do you think perhaps to a certain extent the emphasis that has always been placed on women taking responsibility has conditioned you to believe that this is what you *should* be doing? Yes, you choose to take the pill, but if men had been taking the oral contraceptive for the last 60 or so years, would women still be opting to take it, or would *we* be adopting the attitude that “it’s ok, it’s being sorted?” I suppose it’s difficult to speculate, but it’s something that we should think about.
Hope this addressed the issues that you raised with your message, and many thanks again for your comments.
Comments on earlier features and reviews
Samara Ginsberg, author of the article, replies
I’m so sorry to hear about your friend – that’s really tragic.
I should have been more specific in the article: what I actually meant was that this sort of thing is more inherently damaging for women than for men only when the person’s genitals are normal/average, as they are in the vast majority of cases. I don’t doubt that any man who actually does have a small penis goes through hell, as your example demonstrates.
Your example also demonstrates a distasteful feature of the Cosmo generation – namely that it is considered acceptable to talk about men’s penises in this way. I can think of few things bitchier and more disrespectful than sleeping with someone and then going around giggling about it and waggling my little finger at all and sundry, but to a lot of people this is acceptable behaviour, all part of the “battle of the sexes”.
Dwysan Edwards, author of the article, replies
I really appreciate your reply to my article. It wasn’t intended to tell
women to be a ‘good feminist’, it was a personal viewpoint on an image which
in my view is continually reinforced in society – that women should keep
themselves safe and that all men are perpetrators.
I can only imagine how frustrating and lonely it must have been to deal with
your experiences and in my line of work unfortunately I have supported many
women in the same situation. Also from my own experiences I do understand
the effects of living with abuse. Thankfully there are some measures now
being put in place and even in North Wales we are hoping to have a SARC
(Sexual Assault Referral Centre) open in 2008. Obviously there is a long
way to go.